Faith and Family

(Due to travel times, this weeks blog is posted 1 day early!)

This past weekend I had the joy and privilege of joining together with six of my siblings to celebrate our oldest biological sister’s 90th birthday. Due to circumstances within our family dynamics, five of the eight of us were adopted into different homes. By God’s grace and through faithful prayers we have been reunited for over fifty years. With one of our sisters with the Lord, we understand how important it is to spend the time we have together. Though not being raised together it is amazing how similar we are in attitudes and life perspectives.

I am so grateful for the value they have added to my life. Betty, the birthday gal, is not always in the best of health, but is always thankful. She is an amazing example of walking in the peace and blessing of God through troubles and trials. Her life has not been easy, but to watch and hear the accolades from her children, grandchildren and others you know she has lived her life well. She is an inspiration and a role model on how to walk through trials with joy.

Not all families get along like ours, I understand. Growing up and maturing in how to treat one another takes time, patience and maturity. Look at the struggles Jacob’s family had–sibling rivalry to the utmost! Selling one’s brother into slavery is definitely a sign of dysfunction. Parents, it is important to work with your children–teaching them how to get along and how to appreciate the differences in others. Jacob’s gift giving of the special coat of many colors did not help bring his sons together, but only further hurt their relationships. However, at the end of the day, Joseph got where he was supposed to be to help his family. The brothers admitted their wrong feelings and actions to Joseph and God used their situation to further His purpose. Do you ever ponder how their relationship changed after they moved to Egypt??

Those of you with smaller children or grandchildren please work with them to help them learn honor and respect for you as parents, for authority and for their siblings. Respect and esteem does not come easily in our culture. But we can help by modeling it to those in authority, to our political leaders as well as to our spouses, parents and children. As for you Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching. Teach the older men to exercise self-control , and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience. Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead they should teach others what is good. Titus 2:1-3 Titus goes on with further instructions for young women and young men. Take the time to read Titus 2 if you are not familiar with its content. Applying these words of life will bring peace and blessings to our soul. It is unfortunate that many people do not ever receive any type of honor or respect from their childhood onward. At times it is definitely not easy to give honor and respect to everyone, but God is able to help us learn to give honor and respect. We may disagree, but learning to do it with respect is key. That takes patience and a willingness to learn! Taking time to pause and really see the person you are interacting with is one of the keys He has taught me. It really helps. God’s family is so diverse. Many think differently, act differently and understand differently than we do. Let’s focus on our common ground and leave the judging difference to Him. Pray for them if you feel they are blinded to the truth you see so clearly. Release your faith that the God who revealed His truth to you, is able to reveal His truth to them as well.

Choosing respect and honor over disrespect and judgement tears down walls, and leads to peace. If there are sin differences at hand, then find the most respectful way of talking with the person. It will help open their ears and their hearts to new truth. I am glad I am part of the Swift family, but even happier I am part of the family of God!

Adding a “please” or “thank-you” to your interactions with your spouse, children or co-workers opens the door for respect. Guarding your tone of voice when making a request softens the heart of the listener, and may limit their triggers! These are all things that we can do. If you need to ask forgiveness or forgive your family members for neglecting to bring honor and respect, do it today. These seemingly inconsequential “niceties” strengthen relationships, soften hearts and open doors for God’s Spirit to move in ways only He can. Practicing kindness is always a good thing!

Faith and “It’s”

We may not get it the first time around, or even after many rounds, but God doesn’t give up His determination to help us get it. Whatever our “it” is today, God is PRESENTLY helping us! This is a quote by Darryl Rodman. I added the caps on presently because it is so encouraging to understand that He is always helping us as we walk this journey called life. Last week I talked about anxiety and some steps to combat it, I had some encouraging responses to those words. Trusting this article will also be a blessing.

Our family was touched by tragedy this past weekend as an extended family member lost her hope and took her own life. I remember her as a child–full of smiles and life. Somewhere along her journey her way got very hard and for some reason felt it was too hard to continue. My heart hurts for her, her mom, dad, daughter and other family plus all her friends. Such events always cause us to pause and wonder how, why or what could we have done???

If one of the “its” He is teaching you is that you are valuable to Him and others? That no matter how far away you feel, He is only one step back? If you are struggling with the the fact He does love you, can I encourage you to just surrender to His words of life and use that little faith you have to choose to believe it! I’ve seen so many fight against the truth of His unconditional love within their own hearts and minds. I’ve done it. I know when I finally made a decision to simply trust His Words–and relax into His love my life changed. What a difference it has made over the years as He has led me into other truths. It really is the gateway to learning His ways and His plans for you. No wonder the enemy fights so hard against this basic of all basic of truths. Friends, He loves you. You are loved by the Creator of all the Universe. Please accept this “its” of all “its”. We do not work for it, earn it or deserve it. It is a gift. Let it sink deep into your soul. You are loved.

If the “it” your Savior is trying to impart into your life is the “it” of the fact you do make a difference in the lives of others, please believe that “it”. Many struggle with this “it”. It leaves them lonely and isolated, full of fear and insecurity. They do not believe that they can reach out from the island of self to help some one else. If this is your “it”, please trust Him as He leads you to reach out to help your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker. Respond to His love.

Let us implement these lessons into our hearts and lives. Sunday a young man came for prayer–his need, “I’m lonely”. We had just sung a song called “You Know My Name” by Tasha Cobbs. It was his first time at our church. I asked the young man next to me to help me pray with him after I heard his need. It was such a God connection. After praying, I mentioned it was God he came to us, as I knew loneliness as a widow and the other young man was also single. They connected after service and I know God is working on meeting his need. We commended him on being brave to come forward. So maybe your “it” is being brave and letting others carry your load of care.

Maybe your struggle is with faith. “Lord, help my unbelief!” is a prayer He loves to answer. Usually He sends you to His Word to grow in those weaker faith areas–after all faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God! So however He is helping you receive your “it”, trust Him. He is a good, consistent, and relentless teacher! There are many “its” in our life. I am grateful He continually desires to not only teach us, but also lead us through our valleys and onto our resting places.

Father, I ask you to help us run to you and all the truths you are helping us to embrace. I ask for faith to believe whatever “it” you are working into the hearts of your children, whether it is new faith, new grace, new hope or other areas of character building. You are a good good Father, and we choose to trust you today.

Faith and Anxiety

The title seems like an oxymoron–can faith and anxiety co-exist? I do not consider myself an
“anxious” person by nature–but I certainly have walked through periods of anxiety in my life. It seems like I have met more people who struggle with living in this condition than ever before–or else they are more candid about it! Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. My heart and prayers go out to people who find themselves struggling with anxiety. I believe there is hope and help for those who find themselves overwhelmed with anxiety. Life style changes can help–getting rest, exercise and eating well will help promote an atmosphere in which peace can grow and still anxious hearts.

So what happens when we read Philippians 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and we still find ourselves nervous or worried about the situations facing us? I know I have shared this before, but I think it is time for a reminder! We do not have to live in an overwhelming state of anxiety. It will knock on our door and present itself as a natural fact of life. If we do not take our rightful authority over it–it will not even take time to knock, but just move on in and take up residence in our souls, costing us peace, joy and the ability to enjoy life! It is not a stagnant thing–but if we feed it, it will grow and grow until we are paralyzed by not only anxiousness, but fear itself.

I recently found myself fighting anxiety on a different level. As I read the news lately I have been hearing about the possibility of another recession. I realized that every time I would hear about it, anxiety about my future would begin to rise. I began to rethink every purchase decision I was making and struggled to purchase even food I needed! I began to pray and ask the Lord, where is this coming from? He showed me it was fear about my future caused by what I had read. I had forgotten to do the rest of the verse in Philippians 4:6! I had forgotten to add the “with thanksgiving” part! I had brought my needs before Him like it instructs, but not with thanksgiving! O Lord, I need you to protect and multiply my finances–then doubt and concern would rush in. When I added the thanksgiving part–faith arose. He showed me how he had helped us through the last recession and he was very able to help us make it through if another one showed up! Concerns about my children, grandchildren, friends with health issues etc can become either opportunities to grow in our faith for them, or areas where anxiety takes over and leaving us fearful an anxious.

My friends who struggle with anxiety, I ask you to think about simply adding a time of thanksgiving to your mornings. Waking up and thanking the Lord for your family, His grace, your health or whatever comes to mind is a first line of defense in fighting against these anxious thoughts that would control your life. If you find yourself fighting anxiety through the day–stop and begin to thank Him for your freedom. Ask Him for His solutions to the problems you are facing. Thank Him for simply loving you as you are and helping you move from whatever level of anxiousness you are currently in to a lesser state. Do not beat yourself up because you find yourself anxious–remember He loves your anxious self enough to help you move away from it! It is amazing how just knowing you have an ally in God in the midst of your situation can begin to calm your fears. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 His desire is to help us not live in anxiety–part of what Jesus died to redeem us from. Let us not settle for less than He desires. It is worth fighting for–peace that passes all understanding! Resist the thief who would steal your joy and substitute it with anxious thoughts.

Father, I pray for all your people who are struggling today with anxiety. I ask you to send your peace and help them to see the power they have over these anxious thoughts. I thank you for freedom from fear and for a new hope to arise that they do not have to settle for less than your peace. You know the concerns and cares we carry as we live in this world. I thank you for helping us to cast them upon you today in Jesus Name. Every lie that has been spoken that tells them they are not worthy of your help, I renounce now in Jesus Name. Every evil thought that would steal their hope, I curse now as well in Your Name. Thank you for meeting our every need in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Faith and Worship Leaders, Writers and Musicians

The Bible reminds us that God has given gifts to each one–severally as He will. I did not receive the musicians gift! I know I have mentioned this before, but I am sincerely in awe and blessed by people who can translate my feelings into songs in a way that reminds me that I am not alone in life’s journey. Scripture based words infuse faith when feelings would tell you to quit, they bring hope to the hopeless and strength to run our individual races.

I have been pondering this for several days. Today at our MOPS meeting we were asked to select a song that motivates us to get up and move–even to clean our houses, or one that pulls us from our down moods and lifts us up. I laughed because the other day I was listening to ” Way maker” by Leeland in the shower, and I admit I was doing a bit of a dance move! Maybe this is too much information–but it was fun, freeing and uplifting. I definitely would not have been dancing in the shower without that music! I did a bit of a background check and this amazing song which declares many of the attributes of our God was written by a Nigerian gospel singer Sinach Joseph, Osinachi Kalu (Osinachi is an Igbo name}, meaning Comes from God. As I delved deeper I discovered she was encouraged by her pastor to pursue the gift he recognized within her. She has a humble heart to share not only share the gospel, but also encourage her fellow Nigerians with their gifts. This amazing artist has over 100 million YouTube views for this one song. She has received many awards internationally. God has shown Himself faithful to her. She is just one but many artists that desire to honor and glorify God with their giftings. Not every musician will become internationally famous–but they are still making an impact in their sphere of influence.

Because her pastor encouraged her gifts, we all benefit! If you have not heard the song–take time to google it! I posted the lyrics below. I believe it will be a blessing to you. I took the time to listen to her sing her own song–powerful. I pray a blessing on every worship leader, song writer and musician who takes the time to translate God’s truth into succinct thoughts that we can take with us. They encourages us to look up when we want to look down, and inspires our faith when we maybe feeling content with our status quo relationship with Jesus. Music is just one vehicle He uses to encourage us–but we have to have vessels that give themselves to it. I thank God for every musician that gets up early to seek His anointing, practice their craft and seek to grow in their relationship with the Lord so I can be strengthened. Thank you for the hours in prayer seeking Him for His revelation. Thank you for working together with others (which isn’t always easy!) to add the subtle sounds that touch our hearts even if we are not aware of it! Thank you vocalists for honing your gift as well, we appreciate you. Sometimes we take these things for granted but God doesn’t!

I also want to encourage you to use your gifts–whatever they may be. We need them. My husband had wanted to be a painter in His college days. Toward the end of his life, he returned to this love–but the amazing thing is our son in law was also a painting major in college. He is using his gift and God is honoring Him. Our daughter is also growing into an amazing artist of her own right. Vastly different, but so life giving. Did the years Darryl laid down his painting in obedience to follow the God’s plan, sow a blessing they are reaping now?

Let’s celebrate God’s gifts wherever we find them. I love people who have the ability to articulate perspectives in clarity and many times humorously, these too are gifts. What are yours? What can you do to grow in them? We all will be blessed because of it!

Lyrics:

You are here
Moving in our midst
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Working in this place
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Moving in our midst
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Working in this place
I worship you
I worship youWay maker
Miracle worker
Promise keeper
Light in the darkness
My God
That is who you are
Way maker
Miracle worker
Promise keeper
Light in the darkness
My God
That is who you areYou are here
Touching every heart
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Healing every heart
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Turning lives around
I worship you
I worship you
You are here
Mending every heart
I worship you
I worship you Way maker
Miracle worker
Promise keeper
Light in the darkness
That is who you are
Way maker
Miracle worker
Promise keeper
Light in…

Faith and Receiving

This past week end my local church chose to continue implementing their “Live Generously” campaign by helping three different widows/single moms with some maintenance work on their homes. I was one of the people chosen to receive this special gift. One of our pastors headed up the team at my home along with two of my children’s help ripped out some old planting and pruned desperate areas with the goal of making it easier for me to maintain. They thought it best for me to “go away” and enjoy myself, so I spent the week end with my daughter Rosanna and her family. I admit it was more emotional than expected!

Sometimes it is very difficult for me to receive, I know I am not alone in this. In fact, I think it may take more faith for me to be on the receiving end than on the giving end. I have to release my faith that those who poured their hard work into my home will be blessed by our God in ways that I cannot perceive. It takes belief and faith that not only am I worth their time and energy, but also they believe in me.

When we are on the receiving end, we are not in control. I’m learning it is not easy for me not to be in control. I needed to admit that there were areas in my life that I couldn’t control or do. With my asthma/allergies triggered by “stuff” in my yard, it just isn’t healthy for me to weed or prune. Obviously I need help. I was honored and blessed but also a bit embarrassed that I was chosen! How could such a gift be also embarrassing? Because if my twisted soul is like others, my pride got involved. I don’t like to be needy. I want to be able to “do it all”, but in reality, none of us can do it all.

Scripture tells us it is more blessed to give than receive. Somebody has to be on the receiving end–why not me? Why not you? This past week our Life Group was able to bless another member’s daughter with some warm winter clothes as she transitioned from Florida to Washington. It was a joy to celebrate with them. Our MOPS group has been taking meals to new moms and cancer fighters and it is our joy to do so. I can tell some of the “receivers” may struggle with my pride affliction as well, but it is their season to receive. It was my season to receive this help. The work done on my home helped not only myself–but also my neighbors, as the team were able to pull some blackberry vines from their side of the fence as well! It benefited my family as the work done was work they did not have figure out the time and energy to do. The comradery that is built when people work on a project together is priceless. I so appreciate Life Church. My daughter Elizabeth said, Mom, some of the workers did it as a tribute to Dad, but others did it because they love you–(those who never had the privilege to meet him).

So when you are given the opportunity to become the receiver–do it cheerfully, humbly and with out a bunch of protests. Do not rob the giver of their blessing by refusing the help they offer. It may be as simple as can I hold the baby for you? What can I do to help during your illness? Can I pick up some groceries for you? Can I re-do your yard????? Learn to not only be those that offer to help, but also be those who graciously receive. It will strengthen your relationships. I think it could possibly bring a smile to the Lord as well.

Faith and Daily Life

We walk by faith, not by sight, well at least that is the admonition of 2 Corinthians 5:7. Learning to apply it all day, every day is a process. We are given ample opportunities to put it into practice as we walk through life’s challenges. I remember when my children were small and wondering if my constant reminders to pick up your clothes, clean your room or countless other instructions would actually stick. I knew it was my responsibility to teach them, but in the end it was really my faith that brought me through that season. Even when one of my children informed me–“You taught me how to clean my room, mom, don’t worry, I know how!”. And they did know how.

The Holy Spirit does the same thing, if we follow His leading. Our Life Group has been focusing on Jesus and HIs Miracles. It has been so faith building to take the time to slowly consider some of the most amazing stories shared in the gospels. I have found my faith and expectation of His intervention rising and growing. Fear of God NOT answering is giving away to “let’s ask, believe and trust Him in the receiving.” I just want to encourage each of us to stay diligent in the Word, day after day; week after week. It makes a difference. Our faith will grow and needs to grow.

The only way that we will see the fruit of our faith is to use it! Begin to pray stretching prayers based on Him, not on yourself. Looking back on myself as a younger believer, it was a lot about me! Was I doing it “right”? I’ve learned to rest more in Him and trust He has taught me well! My daily conversations and time in the Word do make a difference. Your thoughts begin to become His thoughts. It becomes a much more peaceful journey of trust.

Keep on planting His Word in your heart. It will bear fruit. Do not compare yourself to someone else. We don’t know their journey or story. Keep on walking with Him. Resting in His ways and HIs will. Do not let discouragement take hold, dear friends. Discouragement comes often with a sneaky undermining thought “why bother”, or “you can’t do it anyway”. Silent those voices quickly and firmly. He who has called you will go on and perfect your purpose, calling and faith. I am more aware of those subtle voices now personally, but it doesn’t stop him from trying.

Dear friends, I want to encourage you to keep close to your Savior. Listening, obeying and following Him will bring you to some amazing pastures as well as warfare! It is definitely not a boring life when you let Him lead. Blessings and strength to you today, my friends. He is with you.

Faith and The Draft Part 2

I know Faith and the Draft part 1 was a bit of a bait and switch–at least for some of my football fans! Read it if you haven’t, it will set the stage for this article.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you [ My loving-kindness and My mercy are more than enough-always available-regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.

At times in our life’s journey we are thrust onto another path than may be our choosing, these are paths that are not the “norm” and I have labeled them “subgroups”. Cancer fighters, special needs parents and children, the disabled, caregivers, those suffering from chronic illness or the mentally ill, widows or foster children would all be classified as “subgroups”. There are many many more, with the “subgroups” being divided into even smaller groups. The one thing that these subgroups have in common, while the individual may have contributed somewhat to their being part of that group–these are usually not a group anyone would choose to belong to. However, I have found by experience God can and is doing great things in the lives of those who are part of these subgroups.

The initial entry is usually unexpected and overwhelming. Your child has Down Syndrome or is autistic is not something any parent anticipates. I’m sorry to tell you that the tests came back positive and you have cancer. I’m sorry your husband has suffered a heart attack which threw a massive blood clot and is basically blind, deaf and gone. (This last sentence was the beginning of my derailment into the subgroup of caregiver!) I was confused and my faith, though in tact, I admit wobbled a bit. But the interesting thing about being in a subgroup–there is no going back. If you choose to accept the situation as your new “normal” it can be a very life changing learning experience. I felt weak and disorientated in the first few days and weeks. The body of Christ showed up–bringing their faith, their strength and their help. It was amazing. Church, we need to identify these subgroups so we can help each other–in big ways and small ways.

I wrestled with my new normal for quite awhile–I wanted to go back to my old life. Some cancer fighters who are healed can go back to a more pre-subgroup life, but they are still changed. The experience brings them into a new community of other fighters who have common experiences of chemo, radiation and other treatments. They can help others in their fights–supporting and encouraging; or they choose to shut down and run from the memories and let others fight alone. It is our choice with any subgroup–fight it alone, or join with others. It is much easier to do life in community. That is why there are so many “support” groups.

It has been nine plus years since I became a member of the caregiver subgroup. A friend of mine is now her husband’s caregiver. We saw each other at Walmart and I was able to encourage her with hope plus give her some practical tips that I learned. In a week it will be seven years since I transitioned to a new subgroup–widow. Another new journey change.

During my time as a caregiver I met new people–therapists, doctors and other caregivers. It was an opportunity to be a light in the midst of people I would never meet otherwise. I chose to ask the Lord to help me touch these people as He willed. I watched Him answer that prayer. Joining a subgroup opens up your life to new experiences and opportunities to learn. Take advantage of it! I chose to trust that God had a plan that was bigger than me and He was with me in this journey as He had when I was not part of these subgroups! He showed up. Look for Him. Ask Him to show you what you can do, stop focusing on what you feel you have “lost”, but look up! It is not easy. Your enemy becomes “why me?” and “self pity” and “what if” and “if only”….but our Gracious God sees you right where you are. He is a very present help in your time of trouble. Call on Him often.

If you are reading this and your are not a part of a “subgroup”, you may be the answer to someone’s need. Look around you, make yourself available–a word of encouragement, a meal, a phone call or physical help may be just the thing that is needed to help others. Learning to love others in action and deed is amazing. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or say–do the most loving thing you can think of–and when in doubt–you could always ask “how can I help you?”

I did feel “drafted” into the world of caregiver and widow. I had no choice. People commented “you are so strong”, I felt weak the scripture above encouraged me. It wasn’t easy, but I have learned so much. I miss my husband, but I’ve chosen to live my life as fully as I can to be useful for my family and His Kingdom. I had an amazing first part of my life. But I also have an amazing “subgroup” life as well. It is just different.